We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Saturday, November 22. 2014
This is a re-post:
One historical detail I picked up in reading Philbrick's wonderful Mayflower is that the Pilgrims only permitted civil marriage ceremonies - no religion involved, and no preacher present.
As Calvinists, the Pilgrims/Puritans/Separatists of colonial New England viewed the Anglican sacraments as Papist, and thus representative of the Anti-Christ - and they meant it. As a consequence, Congregational Churches, the heirs of the Puritan movement, still have no sacraments per se, although many have liberalized (or backslided?) to the extent of doing baptism, communion - and, of course, weddings which, even if not technically sacramental, are viewed as sacred vows. People long for a touch of the sacred and sacramental.
It is fascinating to be reminded that our nation's deepest roots are in Calvinist theocracy: pre-enlightenment, for better or worse. They viewed the Indians as equals (though living in spiritual darkness), but they hung some Quakers in Boston as blasphemers (but mainly tried to just send them away).
They even hung an ancestor of mine, who ran away from her husband and kids in Kingston, Rhode Island and was caught on a trail outside of Boston, headed north. Her crime? She refused to return home. We suspect she was not overly fond of her husband, who had previously been suspected of throwing his first wife overboard on the way to Rhode Island in 1640.
Friday, November 21. 2014
I have been perusing this out of print book: Truro - Cape Cod, Landmarks and Seamarks by Shebnah Rich (1888). I have a copy of the book, and wonder how in the world it got online.
Cape Cod began growing in European (English) population around 1630.
Farming and fishing were the main occupations. The soil was rich then due to the old forests. Today, there is no topsoil left. By 1750 there were few trees left on the Cape due to lumbering, land clearing for farming, and for fuel. The scrub oak and pine that predominate today is not the tall virgin hardwood forest that the colonists encountered.
Everybody grew things and raised animals. There was not much cash except from fishing and boat-building, and there were no shops. Main subsistence crops: orchards, maize, pumpkin and squash, root vegetables, beans, rye. No wheat, no flour, no sugar unless very wealthy - but there was molasses from the West Indies. Also, pigs, steer, milk cows, chickens, and horses for transportation. Cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries grew wild. There were plenty of deer and rabbits too, and of course abundant shellfish. Beans with a little pork was a standard meal. People baked their bread once a week, made of mixes of corn (maize) and rye flour. Food: Early American food and drink
When you slaughtered a hog or steer, you shared the meat with neighbors. They did the same.
You were allowed to shoot a wolf or a "problem Indian" but the Indians were not much of a problem and soon settled into Indiantowns and learned English. King Philip's War was not a big deal on Cape Cod.
A village Meeting House served many purposes including local government meetings and church. Most of the early congregations were "united," ie Methodist and Congregational worshipping together. In the early days there was a hot market for pastors and Harvard began grinding them out in 1636 to meet the demand. Like the Boston colonists, the Cape Codders were not Puritans like the Plymouth group.
Other than local rules made in town meetings, there was no "government" in evidence at all. Town officials were by vote, and volunteers. There were no police but there were informal militias. Every adult male citizen was required to own a firearm (mostly matchlocks). Later on, recruiters would pass through towns demanding recruits for the French and Indian War. The structure of grammar schooling varied widely from village to village.
Truancy from church was a crime. So was swearing. Sunday church services generally had two one-hour sermons and around an hour of prayer. The service was around four hours in all. No music, of course, and no communion. Those were Papist things. Each church had a guy assigned to wake up drowsers with a long stick with a feather on one end (for the ladies) and a knob on the other end (to conk the drowsy men on the head). A fun task, no doubt.
Thanksgiving: There were fall harvest Thanksgiving feasts all over the Cape. Nothing to do with the original Pilgrims, just a traditional harvest time thanks to God. The Pilgrim Thanksgiving? They had very little to be thankful for with half their group dead in that first winter, but they were anyway. Remember, they were headed for the already established town of New Amsterdam (New York), not Massachusetts. Got blown off course.
There were windmills all over the Cape, very early. Their main purposes were making corn or rye meal, or for filling up salt flats for salt production (to make salt cod).
Fishing meant mostly Cod on George's Bank, but later Mackeral too. Some guys were fishing schooner skippers by 25. Some of them went on to be transoceanic ship captains. There was some near-shore whaling, and the occasional stranding of a pod of Blackfish (aka Pilot Whales) was hitting the jackpot.
Death: Mainly infectious diseases of early childhood. Some TB in young adulthood. Also, puerperal fever killed a lot of wives so men often went through a series of them. After that, fishermen drowning was the main cause - which provided widows for the widowers. If you escaped those things, most people lived into their 80s. (Those childhood death rates and accident death rates are what skews old-time life expectancy data and thus the averages are meaningless.)
Illumination and heat: Fireplaces for heat, and one in the kitchen for cooking. Wood stoves came much later. Bayberry candles, whale oil lamps.
Transportation, etc: Roads were terrible. Transportation was mainly by water and to be a town you needed a harbor. With its fine harbor, Provincetown was the largest on the Lower Cape. Early on, there was regular travel and mail, via Boston packets.
We might consider these settlers poor and deprived, but all they saw was abundance, faith, and hope. Life was hard and highly uncomfortable (by our standards), and was expected to be. You fended for yourself. If judged utterly helpless, the church came to your aid.
Housing: The history of colonial housing is an interesting one, mostly borrowed from England and from Holland in areas around New York. However, the rural Cape Cod cottage was an American invention and typical on colonial Cape Cod. No plumbing. Every village had an amateur post and beam carpenter in an era where most trades were amateur and everybody was a farmer, including schooner skippers, pastors, and doctors.
Photo on top is the Jonah Atkins house, Truro, Mass.
Thursday, November 20. 2014
Here is a recent article from Ephemeral New York on Five Points.
Wednesday, November 12. 2014
Our urban hike just won't go away. Yesterday, Bird Dog posted pics of Trinity Church. Today I'm posting one location we didn't happen to visit. It was on the original agenda, by the time we got to Washington Square, taking a swing west would have added too much time to the walk. Spirits were high, but it seemed too much to ask. There's always next year.
As a young arrival in New York, I was single and had small amounts of cash to spend on entertainment. There were plenty of ways to find that entertainment at South Street Seaport, midtown in some of the (much more expensive) watering holes, Greenwich Village, and even portions of the West Village. In particular, The White Horse Tavern (warning - the full article, if you wish to read it, requires joining the site, but there is plenty in the portion I've linked to) was one of my favorite places to go after work on Thursday and Friday. For some reason, I never stopped in on the weekends.
Continue reading "The White Horse Tavern"
Tuesday, October 7. 2014
Saturday, September 27. 2014
In the US, I can easily see California and Texas as their own countries. They were never envisioned at the beginning anyway. Either one would be more of a nation than Canada, Australia, or Austria. Smalleer governments are more accountable and more responsive.
Even Spain could break into its constituent parts if the empire permits a vote.
Dismantling Empires Through Devolution - Democracy is not the most potent political force of the 21st century.
Should the American civil war have been subject to a confederate referendum first?
Sunday, August 31. 2014
Wednesday, August 20. 2014
Friday, June 6. 2014
Sunday, June 1. 2014
Reading Plutarch (especially in English), is a delight. Plutarch on Demosthenes.
When you read his biographies, you learn as much about Plutarch (c. 75 AD) as you do about his subjects. His somewhat-contrived Parallel Lives was a best-seller of its time, and it is still selling.
Wednesday, May 28. 2014
It began as the Rogue's Gallery, a series of pictures of New York's most notorious criminals, around 1857, some 20+ years after the first photograph was developed. No doubt as the cost of photography fell, the role of a photo as an effective police tool became apparent. It was a critical innovation of Chief Inspector Thomas Byrnes, a man known for aggressive police work, in the 1880s. Byrnes is also known as the developer of "The Dead Line" and "The Third Degree".
The Dead Line referred to an imaginary line drawn across Manhattan at Fulton Street, and based on the concept that criminals would be interested in the banks and jewelry stores south of said line. Any known criminal south of this line would be arrested on sight. In a day and age when 28 detectives were available to investigate the crimes among 2 million inhabitants, the money south of this line dictated policy.
Byrnes' most notable case was linked to one of the most famous serial killers of all time. Byrnes had claimed that Jack the Ripper would find it impossible to operate in New York City without being caught in 48 hours. Those words would haunt him.
Continue reading "Thomas Byrnes, Chief Inspector"
Sunday, May 25. 2014
Since it's Sicily Month at Maggie's, on this Decoration Day weekend I am reviewing the Allied invasion of Sicily, July 1943.
2300 Americans died in that invasion. Did the Sicilians want us there? Of course not.
At that point, I think it was the most massive invasion by sea in history.
I reflect on all of the historical invasions of Sicily by sea - the Greeks, the Phoenicians, the Moslems, the Norman Vikings, the Spanish (barely an invasion), and the take-over by Italy (again, hardly a serious invasion but Italy did send military forces to annex Sicily). Uniquely, the Allies didn't invade to own it and had no aspirations to, but it was a strategic, temporary necessity.
(Reader reminded me that I omitted the Romans and the Byzantines. Too much to keep track of. Everybody wanted to own Sicily, and all of that history is still right there, right down to the Phoenician fortifications, the Greek temples, the Norman castles, the Roman cities, and the couscous and the mosques - and even Greek temples - converted to churches.)
Image is the historic flag of Sicily - most interesting flag in the world.
Saturday, May 10. 2014
Thursday, May 8. 2014
Tuesday, May 6. 2014
Gwynnie gets to spend part of her summers protecting a unique forest preserve in the Sierra Nevada range in a valley which was once used in the summers by the Martis Indians (see The Martis Indians: Ancient Tribe of the Sierra Nevada by Willis Gortner). According to Gortner and others, the Martis occupied the region from a time of global cooling and increased rain around 2000 BC to about 500 AD, when the climate again changed and became drier. Also at about that time, more aggressive tribes like the Paiutes had developed the bow and arrow which required obsidian not found in the area. There could have been conflict with the Paiutes or the Washoe to the East, or with the gentler gatherers, the Maidu, to the North. It was the Maidu which occupied the valley after the Martis departed to an unknown fate.
The Martis Complex left their mark on the land, however, in the form of what scholars call “High Sierra Abstract-Representational petroglyphs” as shown in the picture. All petroglyphs are on horizontal or sloping granite bedrock, with none on cliff faces or boulders, and each site has an unimpeded view of at least three peaks.
Sunday, May 4. 2014
Wednesday, April 30. 2014
Tuesday, April 29. 2014
"Conrad Martens, an official artist on the second voyage, did this drawing of the Beagle laid ashore at the mouth of the river Santa Cruz in Southern Argentina. When repairs to the hull were necessary after the ship had struck a rock, the ship was beached and the work was performed between high tides." Image courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
The story of HMS Beagle (1820-1870) - an ordinary ship. Not about Darwin, about the life of a 19th C. ship.
Monday, April 28. 2014
Monday, April 7. 2014
Sunday, March 30. 2014
Reposted from 2012 -
I am studying up as I gradually learn about the places I am scheduled (by my tour planner, Mrs. BD) to visit over the next couple of weeks. I regret that our contributor, Roger de Hauteville, King of Sicily, cannot accompany us because I am sure he would have some good historical reminiscences from the time of his reign.
The Mediterranean world went through some or most of these cultural phases (or empires) which you can mix and match according to location:
Sicily experienced pretty much every bit of that sequence, which is how the Norman Roger de Hauteville became King of Sicily.
Best as I can tell thus far (I have a pile of books I am getting through), Sicily's high point was around 200 BC when it was still a Greek culture (Syracuse was considered the finest city in Magna Graecia), when the Syracusan Archimedes was busy discovering and inventing things in the old Greek way.
It's been downhill for Sicily since the kingdoms were abolished in the 1860s during the unification of Italy as a nation. But never unified, really. The "maffia" filled the power vacuum, and today they basically run the island. (Most people in Sicily speak Sicilian, if not Italian also. "Maffioso" is Sicilian for an entrepreneurial braggart or bully. It has been estimated that 80% of Sicily's businesses pay protection money to the Mafia, and Sicily's main exports are oranges, lemons, population (impossible to build a new biz there due to the mob "tax", so energetic people leave for the US and northern Italy and Europe) - and organized crime.
Despite their Greek history (genetically, Sicilians are a mix of European, Greek, and African), most Europeans to the north (which is all of them) look down on them just as the Romans look down on the Neapolitans, and the Italian Swiss look down on Romans - and even the Tuscans.
It's a lovely island, with around a 5 million population. The rural areas, the active volcanoes, and the well-preserved Greek ruins are the main attractions, and I plan to explore them.
Photo: Mount Etna -
Friday, March 14. 2014
This breakdown of what may likely be the real story surrounding Archimedes' discovery of the measurement of volume is actually more interesting, though less entertaining, than the original. The site isn't too bad, either, even if it does have a slight pro-AGW slant to some of the articles.
Sunday, March 9. 2014
Thursday, January 30. 2014